Saturday, August 06, 2016
Psychology of Fear
The image to the right is called the Plough by the Egyptians and in the original movie, Stargate, and was called Ursa Major by the Greeks and Romans. It is known to every child in every nation as the Big Dipper. This grouping of stars features prominently in a book by Bram Stokes (yes, that Bram Stoker) called The Jewel of Seven Stars. The story revolves around this particular constellation, the Plough/Ursa Major/Big Dipper as seen from Egypt a few thousand years ago and at the dawn of the 20th century in London, England. Many stories, plays, and movies have based their plots on Bram Stoker's book -- and not always to good effect.
The jewel central to Stoker's story, in fact to every story, features these 7 stars. Te-ra, the Egyptian queen who features in the tale was an evil queen -- at least according to the priests of her time and to what little is written about her. She was married to her father in order to keep the pharaonic blood lines pure, although a brother was the usual choice for the pharaoh, and when he died and was entombed after the ritual 70 days, Te-ra killed everyone who had even known or spoken to her father in retribution. I can see where that would likely earn Te-ra the evil title. Remember though that the world 3000 or 4000 years ago was very different that the world in which we live, especially for someone living at that time. Her views and beliefs and practices would have been molded by her time, not the times we live in, and certainly not the 19th century when the story was penned.
Bram Stoker had a vivid and active imagination. He created the ageless vampire, Dracula, and the White Worm, as well as many protagonists from ages past. Te-ra was merely one more of his paper villains. I've read The Jewel of Seven Stars several times and the rest of Stoker's ouevre. While Stoker had a morbid fascination with creatures of the night, Te-ra was not one of his darkly evil villains out to maim, destroy, and suck the marrow (and blood) of life. Te-ra, henceforth Tera, wanted to live again, to live a life free of the rituals, religion, and control of the priests that condemned her (so they thought) to eternal obliteration, which is why they scraped all mentioned of her name from the records and her tomb and destroyed every image depicting her. In ancient Egypt, to be forgotten was to be unmade, to be destroyed utterly. If people did not remember Tera then the gods would forget her as well. Damned in this world and the next.
Stoker's tale of immortality is one of the wish of an ancient Egyptian queen's desire to live again, to be reborn in the corporeal world to live in physical form far in the future. Her mummy was prepared in such a way as to give him power over the elements (earth, fire, water, and, most importantly, air) so she would be powerful, not as a queen or pharaoh is powerful, but as a magician, an adept is powerful in magic, something modern people dabble in and write about but only believe privately and denounce publicly to avoid the risk of being called mentally ill or worse.
Of course, nowadays, believing in magic is fan boy and girl territory and isn't everyone a fan of magic in their heart of hearts?
Margaret's father, the archaeologist who discovered the tomb of Tera, believed that something was amiss when he catalogued the contents of Tera's tomb and read her wishes. Margaret was born at the same moment Tera's tomb was opened, died, and was discovered to be alive as the lid of the sarcophagus was removed. Though he was not present at Margaret's birth, Margaret's father was so thoroughly focused on finding the tomb of the nameless queen, not even his wife's pregnancy and his child's imminent birth would keep him from following the nameless queen's trail to the bitter end. He grieved his wife's death and could not bring himself to live daily in the presence of a child that was touched by the nameless queen's magic -- or her evil. I imagined that the professor believed in magic as he believed in opening forgotten tombs and cataloguing their belongings and the contents of their tombs, even to the point of believing what those ancient pharaohs and queens wrote (or had their scribes write) about themselves.
During the course of the novel, Margaret arrives on her father's doorstep in time to follow Tera's written instructions, in order that her father will wake up. Everything was laid out and Margaret was fascinated by it all. She wanted to be a part of it, not only because of her likeness to Tera but because she believed that if she followed the instructions as laid out, her father would be restored to her and she could at last live with him and get to know him and the world as he saw and knew it. Her father was in a trance (we would call it a coma) and had been attacked and yet Scotland yard was at a loss to discover the culprit or the motive.
The instructions are followed, Margaret's father wakes up, more tools and artifacts are brought back to London from Tera's tomb, and the team that was present when Tera's tomb was opened gathered around as the ritual was enacted. At the end of the ritual, the lights stutter and Tera (her mummy) is gone, the wrappings empty. Stoker leaves the reader with the feeling that Tera has left to explore the world she waited so long to live in and that Margaret is safe and will be allowed to live the life she has dreamed of since she was a child separated from her father and from a world of adventure and knowledge.
Like every one of Stoker's novels, The Jewel of Seven Stars has been rewritten for the horror hungry world anxious for the past to come alive and carry off the unworthy -- and the unwary. Five movies have been based on the plot of the novel (nameless queen, ancient evil, modern man finds and opens tomb, daughter born at the right time, and queen's ritual followed to bring about her rebirth . . . usually awash in the blood of the queen's victims. In a way, it seems adaptations include a bit of the blood lust and blood sacrifice of victims to the ancient dead in order to live on, not unlike Dracula in that way. Only the White Worm has escaped the vampire's curse . . . barely. Blood follows Stoker as surely as it follows Dracula and all vampires. Just as Lucy.
The Awakening, starring Charlton Heston and Stephanie Zimbalist, debuting in 1980 is by far the most star-studded cast and was preceded by Blood from the Mummy's Tomb in 1971 at the height of Hammer films heyday, notable for Valerie Leon, the curvaceous brunette starring as Margaret and Tera and scantily clad through much of the film. Both movies were set in London, though extra points for Heston for sending his daughter all the way to America to keep her safe and for allowing Margaret's mother to live, though she was catatonic early on when Professor Corbeck opened Tera's tomb. Professor Fuchs in the earlier movie died at the end as his home fell down on him when he and his Margaret stabbed Tera, leaving a lot of rubble and one nearly naked female wrapped up in bandages in the hospital at the end of the movie. Could it be Tera? Could it be Margaret? Does it matter? Probably not as it was done for suspense and the element of lingering horror instead of a sequel. Stoker didn't write one.
In 1986, The Tomb followed with the usual bloody mayhem, but with a change of names and plot. Nefratis is the nameless queen whose tomb is plundered and the contents sent to America where the queen follows and exacts revenge on everyone involved. A far cry from a queen condemned in this life and the next who arranges things from beyond to live again, but no less bloody than its previous adaptations and with the addition of statuesque blondes and a very youthful brunette Michelle Bauer as the vengeful Nefratis. John Carradine, a horror movie legend, and Cameron Mitchell of High Chapparral fame do their best to breath a little life into this hodgepodge of mummy curses and fail to do more than maintain the B movie status, and Jade, the buxom, blonde Amazon from Australia did that all by herself when she walked onto the set.
On to the more politically correct 1998 when Bram Stoker's Legend of the Mummy does its best to cash in on Bram Stoker and Bram Stoker's Dracula fame. Not even Louis Gossett, Jr. could save this movie from B movie status, not even with Mark Lindsay Chapman, one time foe of Swamp Thing. In this incarnation, Margaret and Queen Tera are played by different actresses, Margaret a blonde and Tera a sultry, although substantially watered down version of Tera. At best, this version is barely a B- movie, though this time Tera has all seven of the fingers on her right hand, the same hand that was left unwrapped in The Awakening and seen at the beginning of the movie when the sarcophagus lid was opened.
The point to all this Egyptian magic and movie adaptations is to point out what modern, or relatively modern, movie goers get and get used to: blood, curses, mummies, and turning an interesting story into a blood-soaked fright fest for the purposes of scaring (or dumbing) the public into a state of fear. Such psychology does not work, but when has Hollywood or any movie studio in the western world cared whether or not scare tactics work? Okay, well, maybe when subliminal messages on the wide screen failed to boost popcorn sales. At least Hammer studios were willing to go the extra mile in their horror films by installing joy buzzers in the seats and adding special effects in the theater to make the horror more real for the patrons, and such gimmicks are far beyond the usual adolescent pranks of the 1960s and 1970s or the focus groups and PR tricks played before the 60s and since, especially since Freddy Kruger turned our world -- and our dreams -- upside down and inside out.
The point is that scaring the public (to death or as close to it as possible) has become a powerful and lucrative industry since Bram Stoker's day of managing theatres of the more prosaic variety. Stoker hints at the awful consequences of digging up the past instead of shoving it in your face as though front seat at the Grand Guignol, which was revived in 1947 after World War II to entertain the war weary soldiers. The more recent Penny Dreadful is yet another example of the horror craze (and frenzy) that creates and maintains fear among the public by dramatizing and adapting the classic, and much tamer, tales of horror through the ages: Dorian Grey, Frankenstein, Dracula, werewolves, witches, wax museums, Bedlam, Satan, vampires, and such, stealing from every closet and tomb to feed the fears. Once upon a time, religion held people's minds and souls in bondage and served to make man fear GOD in order to live a good and productive life. Those old-fashioned terrors keep the fires of fear stoked for fewer and fewer people as Karl Marx taught that religion is the opium of the masses at a time when real opium enslaves more people with a much stronger hold and yet leave the drugged fit for their daily round on the hamster wheel of keeping up with the Joneses and voting the same greedy and soulless puppets into office to govern us with our consent and approval. Old-fashioned fear has not been enough for a long time and it took movies to ramp up the fear and leave the public shaking in its collective boots -- until the public becomes more sophisticated and unable to be rendered unconscious until the hour of the wolf comes and the night terrors catapult us awake gibbering in fear.
Blood has become porn with the latest in computer generated imaging (CGI) as gouts of arterial blood flood our minds, numbing us even more and requiring the horror industry to step up its game. Horror today is a far cry from the 1930s when my mother gaped open-mouthed at Boris Karloff's portray of Frankenstein's monster on the big screen at their local theater. The horror that sent her scrambling to hide in her mother's arms or crawl under the seat left me smiling and laughing at the hidden jokes and the artful (for the time period) makeup and wooden acting. Boris Karloff did more with his voice to scare several generations out of their skins, like Mae West did to sexualize a reading of the names in the telephone book, but we are now the generation of blood porn and over the top horror that keeps escalating quickly past our endurance for such fears.
The establishment is quickly losing ground, but that is only to be expected when repeated doses of fear tend to numb the senses rather than increase the baseline fear that keeps the average Jane and Joe Doe in line and fearing everything around them. Fear is only part of the equation and not everyone takes drugs, although the 80s and 90s did a stellar job of hooking a healthy percentage of the population on Valium and Adderall.
The biggest problem is that the establishment learns a lot slower than the average citizen/slave. I think that is why the leaders of Islam remain mired in the glorious past where whipping up a jihad was as easy as quoting the Quran for believers. Islam remains in the past and keeps its devout followers mired in the 7th century in order to keep the rest of the world captives of fear and control. The alternative is a good very old-fashioned beheading or bombing, knifing, and shooting in night clubs and public watering holes as well as work places where the faithful have infiltrated and been drugged on the belief of Mohammed's brand of opium: Islam. Another problem blooms in the bloody debris of jihadist terrors: the bombastic display of those willing to follow the thorny path back to the Dark Ages, throw off their politically correct camouflage, and fight blood with bloody rhetoric while the drugged and greedy meat puppets continue sowing fear of such unenlightened tactics and fear mongering to trump the past with a bright future and a New World Order. The end is near -- but not in an unwashed street preacher carrying a sign painted with black letters proclaiming "THE END IS HERE" on street corners everywhere in the civilized world.
I think I'll bow out and take up Bram Stoker's unspoken hope that with magic and watchful waiting a time will come when I will live again in the strength of my own power beyond the reach of small-minded establishment priests who did their best to take away my name, my power, and my soul and failed.
That is all. Disperse.